Scrolling through dating apps can get really boring.
Sure, for the first few minutes, it’s exciting. All these men, here in DC…and they are all actually single! But after a few minutes, they all kinda start to look the same. I mean, they look different, of course, but the pithy statements about their favorite restaurants or weekend runs get a bit old. Yes, I like to read the New York Times just like these guys, but what does that fact really tell me about a person? That he’s educated? That he likes journalists? Or that he just wants me to think that he’s the type of person who reads the New York Times? (As a note, I actually read the New York Times every day. The Saturday Profile is my favorite section. And yes, I’ve written that in response to more than one query on a dating app.)
So you’d think I would get rid of these dating apps. But since I live in a neighborhood with basically no single people, and since I work at a high school, and since all the rest of my free time is taken up by my children, I have no other way of meeting single men. (And yes, thank you very much random married lady for suggesting I should cultivate my hobbies as a way to meet men. Do you think I hadn’t thought about that? Very helpful!) Also, I’ve decided that I have to keep trying, even if it’s fruitless, because otherwise there is no probable chance that I’ll meet someone.
The other night, I put Tommy to bed and went downstairs to have some tea and do my self-imposed dating requirement for the day: 30 minutes of scrolling through the latest app I joined. I was about five minutes into the mindless chatter that dominated conversation (“do you like slinkies?” was something someone asked me that night, for real) and Austin knocked on the front door. He’d been out late with a friend, so I put down my phone and helped him get into bed. “Stay for a little while,” he said, which he never says.
So I sat on the floor as he settled into bed. After a few minutes, when it looked like he was drifting off to sleep, I picked up my phone. Might as well get this dating app stuff done. (Moms are the masters at multitasking. Single moms are the ultimate masters at multitasking.)
“Hey there,” wrote one man, someone who also liked the New York Times, “I have two kids who live with me half the time. Is that a deal breaker for you?”
I laughed to myself. I had recently decided, after a lengthy discussion with a group of widows and widowers, that I didn’t need to disclose my marital status or the fact that I had kids – at least not initially on these apps. But it was leading to some strange conversations.
“That’s great,” I wrote, “I have three kids who live with me all the time.”
I left it at that. Austin was still stirring, so I looked up. “Mom,” he said, “when a person gets surgery, how do the doctors do it? Do they use a knife? Does it hurt?”
I put down my phone. “Well, Austin, anyone who gets surgery is asleep. So it doesn’t hurt while the surgery happens. It just hurts afterwards.”
He didn’t reply. Austin is a funny kid. Unlike my other two kids, he often just asks a singular question and then thinks about the answer. Claire likes to discuss every single topic in depth and Tommy has an endless string of questions and thoughts that constantly come out of his mouth. But Austin ponders things. He closed his eyes, and I went back to my app.
“So,” the man had replied, “do you split custody?”
I looked at my phone. Was he paying attention at all? I had literally just written that I had them all the time. “No,” I wrote back, “I am totally in charge of my kids all the time.”
Again, I left it at that, and tried to text with a few other men. This is what dating apps are, I suppose. One mindless thread after another. My text strings with my girlfriends are so much more interesting. My text strings with my neighbors are so much more interesting. My text strings with the people who are members at my summer pool are even more interesting. I went through the motions, but kept typing the same thing to every man online. It was boring.
Austin coughed. “When people get surgery, how to they close it up afterwards?” he asked. I guess he wasn’t done with the conversation.
“Well, the doctor sews it up somehow,” I said, setting down my phone again.
“They don’t always sew you up,” he said. “Dad had staples in his body. I saw them. He showed me.”
I took a deep breath. “Do you remember that?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “He showed me at the hospital.”
“I didn’t know you remembered that,” I said. He had only been six-and-a-half.
“I do,” he said, and turned away from me, readjusting the sheets.
I stared at the wall for a long time. Maybe my kids remember more than I thought. I decided to pick up my phone and look at my blog to find any clues about their memories from two years ago.
Of course, the dating app was still open, and the same guy had messaged me back, which distracted me from searching old blog posts. “How old are your kids?” he asked, and added, “I’ve found that some women are scared off when they find out I have teenage kids.”
“My kids are young, but teenage kids don’t scare me,” I wrote. I looked over at Austin. His eyes were shut. “I’m a high school teacher and a widow. Hence the 100% “custody” of my kids.”
Okay, so maybe that’s not what you’re supposed to write on a dating app, but I didn’t care. (Scared of teenagers? Please.)
From the corner of the room came a small voice. “Mom, what is colon cancer?”
Wow, Austin was really thinking about all of this. I felt a bit guilty. Here I was, trying to go on dating apps while I thought he was falling asleep. But he wasn’t doing that, clearly. I decided to turn my phone over, and go sit on his bed.
“It is cancer you get in your colon, which is below your stomach,” I said when I sat down, knowing I was giving a rudimentary answer. “The cells in your body grow out-of-control and make it so other parts of your body don’t work. Colon cancer just means you have cancer in your colon.”
“So why did Dad still have cancer, even after they did surgery on his colon?” he asked. “Why didn’t they just take it all out?”
“The doctors tried to get as much as they could,” I said, “but Dad had stage four cancer, which means it had spread all over his body. Dad had chemotherapy to try and get the other pieces of cancer in his body, but the cancer was too strong, so he died.”
“Oh,” Austin said. “Okay.”
He went to close his eyes again, and then opened them and looked at me. “Do you think I’ll ever have to have surgery?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “But if you do, I’ll be there the whole time. I promise you that. Pinkie swear.”
He didn’t respond. He just turned over, pulled the covers up high, and slowly his breaths became longer. After I was sure he was asleep, I kissed him on the head.
As I left the room, I picked up my phone, but didn’t open the apps. I was done with them for the night.
The next evening, when I opened up the dating app, I noticed that the man from the night before – the one with the teenagers – had not responded. Maybe I scared him away, I thought. I was surprised, a bit. Had the mere mention of my widow status been too much for him?
I laughed to myself. I guess if a man is scared by the fact that my husband is dead, he would probably be really scared about how to have a conversation with an 8-year-old about cancer, surgery and death. Not that I want to introduce a new man to my kids at this point. But…this is my life.
Maybe it’s time for a new dating profile, I thought, and started to type.
My name is Marjorie…
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.